48 hours in Ho Chi Minh City

March 16, 2006

48 hours in Ho Chi Minh City
By JESSICA HURT
11feb06

COLOURFUL, vibrant and rich in colonial history, Ho Chi Minh City keeps you interested.

1. TOUCHDOWN The airport is about a 6km drive from the city. However, in peak hour this can mean a 45-minute journey. There are an amazing three million motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, as the locals still call it) and on the way from the airport to your hotel you will feel that you have seen and heard every one of them.

It’s an amazing sight from your taxi or minibus. Everything seems to travel by motorbike – from a family of five to pigs on their way to market. Don’t be surprised to see girls sending text messages while they ride. Oh, and be warned, traffic lights are basically there for decoration.

2. DROP YOUR BAGS

Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon is a centrally located hotel overlooking the Saigon River (check out the views from the Club Lounge on the 18th floor). It’s elegant and nothing is too hard for the staff. This is top-quality accommodation so if you have been backpacking and want to indulge, this is your perfect hotel. The hotel is at 8-15 Ton Duc Thang St, District 1. Visit http://www.renaissancehotels.com/sgnbr

Taxis are a cheap way to travel but make sure it’s always in a marked taxi with a meter. Or you can travel by cyclo, the traditional bicycle form of transport. Always negotiate your rate and currency before getting on.

3. START WITH SOUP

If you want to feel like a local, you must try Vietnam’s favourite breakfast pho, pronounced “fur”, which is a noodle soup served with chicken or beef. It may sound a bit strange having soup for breakfast but it is surprisingly refreshing and is a favourite meal among travellers. There are clusters of good pho restaurants along Nguyen Hue St, District 1. Try Pho Hoa at 260 Pasteur St, which is very popular with locals.

4. COLONIAL PAST

If you really want to get a feel for Ho Chi Minh City, the best thing to do is get out there among the locals and soak up this vibrant city that appears to never sleep. Ho Chi Minh City has some of the most beautiful architecture, so head down Dong Khoi St from Saigon River to the Notre Dame Cathedral and take a look at the historic French colonial buildings that line the street. Make sure you don’t miss the Majestic and Continental hotels, the theatre, cathedral and post office.

Apart from the architecture, the street is famous for other reasons. In the 1950s, it featured in the novel The Quiet American, but by the 1960s it was known for its infamous bars visited by U.S. soldiers. In more recent times, it appeared in the movie adaptation of The Quiet American, which starred Michael Caine.

5. BRIDES AND BOUQUETS

Don’t be surprised if you see a bridal party taking advantage of Notre Dame Cathedral. Its red-brick, neo-Romanesque form and two 40m-high square towers tipped with iron spires dominate the skyline. The main cathedral was built by the French between 1877 and 1883, and is a favourite location for Vietnamese wedding pictures.

6. LEGACY OF WAR

Once known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, tourists should be warned some of the exhibits at the War Remnants Museum are extremely confronting and visitors will find the historical perspectives controversial.

There are photographs, U.S. armoured vehicles, artillery, bombs and weapons.

7. HOLIDAY TRINKETS

If you like finding a bargain or a trinket from your travels, Antique St is a great place to visit. From cute green tea sets to amazing paintings, this street has a great selection of oriental knick-knacks. But be savvy. You don’t want to end up buying a copy for the price of an original. Note: some antiques are not allowed to be exported so check with your tour guide before buying.

8. GRAND BEGINNINGS

Once the Presidential Palace, the Reunification Hall was home to the last three presidents of South Vietnam. The palace became famous when film footage of communist tanks crashing through the gates on April 30, 1975, symbolised the end of the Vietnam War. It is now a museum.

9. MARKET DAYS

Visiting the Ben Thanh market is an experience in itself. The trick is to stay out of the way, stand back and soak up the frenetic pace of market life. Be warned: there is no time for pleasantries here so try not to get in the way of the busy workers or you could be shoved out of the way. The market has all kinds of local produce and souvenirs. Make sure you hang on to your wallet tightly.

10. GETTING THERE

Travel Indochina offers a four-night package to Ho Chi Minh City, including international airfare with Vietnam Airlines, all Australian taxes and charges, accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City, breakfast daily and arrival transfer, for $1194 a person, twin-share, ex-Adelaide. The tour is valid from now until March 31, and April 24 to June 14. Conditions apply. Call Travel Indochina on 1300 367 666.

Cathay Pacific flies to Ho Chi Minh City via Hong Kong from $952 plus taxes. See your local Flight Centre for details.

  • The author travelled to Vietnam as a guest of Travel Indochina. Additional information from Lonely Planet and Travel Indochina.
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